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Why All the Boycotts?

They're not generally effective, and demanding uniform political agreement is counterproductive.

Brian Mark Weber · Jul. 12, 2019

Americans are finding it harder these days to get away from politics. Sure, our minds have for years been saturated with the 24-hour news cycle and the talkingheads who dutifully explain what it was that we just watched. And half the country still can’t accept that Donald Trump is our nation’s duly elected president. There’s a protest around every corner, and it’s harder than ever to avoid them. We can’t even grab a cup of coffee without being swept up into the latest cause célèbre.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen three major companies criticized and targeted for actions that strayed into the political. These include Nike being denounced after former NFL Colin Kaepernick pushed the company to pull its Betsy Ross flag shoe, Starbucks being castigated because one of its locations asked police officers to leave because a customer felt uneasy, and Home Depot being disparaged because one of its co-founders announced that he’d make a contribution to President Trump’s reelection.

And how can we forget the 2012 boycott of Chick-fil-A? All it took was a statement by its president and chief operating officer: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.” Dan Cathy added, “We intend to stay the course. … We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Seems like a fairly innocuous statement of principles, not an attack on the “LGBTQ community.”

But supporters of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ causes didn’t see it that way. In response to Cathy’s comments and Chick-fil-A’s support of organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, homosexual-advocacy groups encouraged a boycott of the restaurant chain. Fortunately, there was pushback and the restaurant actually saw its post-boycott sales increase, but suddenly people going out for a chicken sandwich found themselves embroiled in a nationwide political storm.

As citizens and parents, we should ask ourselves: Do we really want our children growing up in a society in which every time they go to the mall or grab a bite they have to take a political stand? After all, for the time and energy exerted by both sides, boycotts don’t seem to be having any real impact.

Matt Walsh writes at The Daily Wire, “People may have good reason to be miffed about the Starbucks and Nike controversies, but boycotts are equally pointless in those cases. Starbucks didn’t enact a policy banning police officers from entering their establishments. This was a bad decision made by one shift manager at one location.”

Walsh adds, “Why would you refuse to buy coffee from a Starbucks in Scranton, Pennsylvania because an employee in Tempe, Arizona did something obnoxious? Nike’s decision about the shoe was indefensible, but it was a marketing calculation made by one person, or one small group. Most of the people theoretically impacted by a boycott are innocent of the crime.”

Good point.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with individuals taking a principled stand against an organization or company that somehow violates their values or beliefs. But does everything have to become a national cause? And should we seek to punish an entire company in response to a poor decision made by one of its employees? Some of these companies have thousands of workers in hundreds of locations around the country, and there’s no way to ensure that every single one of them will always act appropriately. It seems better to deal with these situations on a case-by-case, or even an individual, basis.

But in 2019, too many Americans want every one of their fellow citizens to agree with them on everything. 100 percent. Or else.

Here’s some advice: If you don’t like your local bakeshop owner supporting this or that cause, then don’t buy your pastries there. But don’t expect a nation of more than 300 million people to join you. And don’t seek to destroy others’ livelihoods if they don’t pledge to embrace your worldview. It seems simplistic, but maybe more Americans need to mind their own business instead of telling others who they can and can’t support.

The problem here seems to be that we’re living in a hyper-society, made possible in part by social media and also by our desire to politicize every aspect of American life. And that society is no longer unified by the same beliefs, resulting in a nation more fragmented than ever. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said after Nike’s unshelving of the Betsy Ross flag shoe, “If we’re in a political environment where the American flag has become controversial to Americans, I think we have a problem.”

Indeed, we do.

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